People with high cholesterol have an increased risk of suffering from heart disease or a heart attack, notes the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. Heart disease is the number-one cause of death amongst both men and women in the United States.
Cholesterol can build in the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow and block or slow the flow of blood to the heart, states the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. Because blood carries oxygen to the heart, obstructions from cholesterol clogging the arteries can lead to chest pain. If a blockage is severe enough, it can cause a complete lack of flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, leading to a heart attack. People with high cholesterol do not experience symptoms until there is blockage leading to pain or other symptoms, thus doctors recommend that people get their cholesterol checked every five years starting from the age of 20.
Diet, weight, physical activity, age and gender are factors that affect cholesterol levels, notes the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. Foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol raise cholesterol levels, with saturated fats having the greatest impact. People who are overweight tend to have higher cholesterol levels, as do people who do not exercise regularly. High cholesterol can run in families, and men are at higher risk of having high cholesterol than women.